"South & East Africa 2011" story # 7

Roma, Lesotho           April 3, 2011

I re-emerged from the dark pit of the Maletsunyane Canyon, onto the illuminated plateau surrounding it.
     I stopped at the first house I came to, and asked to fill my water bottle with their groundwater. The house was actually a complex of two rectangular homes and two round huts. The buildings were made of earthy materials and had rocky sides. I liked them very much.
     An old man sat on a chair under a tree. His wife moved around somewhere nearby. A twenty-five-year-old son was first surprised by my appearance, but he went to fetch the water. A tall, strong man - the family's hired help - gave me a hard look while he did yardwork. I was told to wait in one of the houses, where the son's older sister was cleaning.
     "I'm hungry," I said, because I was too exhausted to not speak freely. The sister brought me "papa" (mashed cornmeal) and salty, diced spinach. I ate them while on soft furniture, near old dressers. The son told me I'd camp that night in his family's yard, and I said, "Sure." I'd love to.
     But, when the son prepared to accompany me to where I'd hidden my bags, so I could retrieve them, I had to tell him I'd go alone and that I might not come back. The bags were too far away for me to go there and come back. The son was disappointed. I would've been, too, but I knew I'd made the right decision.
     I was so tired that even the new weight of a filled water bottle was a burden on my body. I slowly stepped my way through this rural land with no shops nor businesses, only homes.
     One home was comprised of two huts, and a complex set of waist-high stone walls that seemed like the foundations of an ancient community. I realized these bronze stone walls were probably pens for farm animals.
     Two other huts wore brown, leather coverings - shaped like stirrups, and painted white or blue in spots - over their door-frames. I didn't know if they provided decoration or warmth, but they caused the huts to resemble American Indian wigwams.
     I finally reached a bridge over the Maletsunyane River, where I laid down beneath a tree to take a nap.
     School got out on the other side of the river. Ten percent of the school-children came to my side of the river to throw stones at me. The other ninety percent stood on a hillside and watched. Only one girl came over to me, to ask if I needed "thusa" (help), and the kids threw stones at her.
     So, I went to retrieve my bags, near the top of Maletsunyane Falls, where few people went or could get to. I pitched my tent there, though I was fearful the violent water would cause me to have bad dreams.
     But, in reality, I slept like a baby for the next fourteen hours.

In the morning, I went to hitchhike away from Maletsunyane Falls. As I walked past one rural hut, a pot was boiling outside of it, and it smelled like brown sugar.
     The mountains of Lesotho were by far its most interesting and traditional part. But, I hitched a ride on the back of a rickety truck and traveled the long dirt road to Lesotho's lowlands, because 1. I'd already become a member of the community in the university town, Roma; and 2. I could sell my stories in the capital, Maseru. I would need four days of eating and writing to recover, though.
     I would sell 126 stories the next week in Maseru, earning a $60 profit. Yay! I had to pay $2 to ride back to Roma in mini-buses. But, I always hitchhiked to Maseru in the morning.
     On Tuesday, a man named Sechaba (meaning: Nation) picked me up. He asked what I thought of Lesotho.
     I said its many government officials absorbed too much of its funds and did too little work.
     I said the Basotho people (mainly in the lowlands) were too sheepish and looked to emulate the West's leadership in nearly all things: academics, democracy, language, religion. People who especially exemplified this phenomenon were labeled "coconuts", because they were black on the outside, white on the inside.
     During this conversation, I focused on religion. The Basotho people, in great numbers, were in love with Christianity. They attended four-hour, singing services on Sundays. They attended shorter services or bible studies on week-nights. They preached on the walls of bathroom stalls. For many people, their very meaning of life was founded upon the belief that - due to their faith in an improbable religion - "God" would judge them to be among His elite, no matter how unspectacular their lives had otherwise been.
     Okay. We could assume that they were right: it wasn't through working hard and facing challenges that life became meaningful; nor was it by forgetting "meaning" altogether, and just enjoying life day-by-day, that life became good; it was through the Bible and God. And that could only mean one thing:
     "Hallelujah! Thank God the white people came ... to save the Africans from their meaningless existences!"
     Frankly speaking, I believed the Africans had lived quite well before the white men came.
     In fewer words, and without the satire, I expressed these thoughts to Sechaba. The Africans shouldn't follow the white man's religion, the religion of the people who'd come and exploited them, the religion of the people who'd pushed them into smaller lands, who'd made them dependent on handouts, who'd told them it was uncivilized for all the boys and girls of the villages to sleep together in two different huts - that they should live as separate families and be divided. The Africans should stand proud and lead themselves, in an African way.
     I'd seen the cross dangling from the mirror before I'd begun my speech. Sechaba informed me he was the preacher in his village. But, he said he saw my point. And he didn't disagree.

On Wednesday, a man named Justice picked me up. He worked for Itekeng Restaurant in Roma, as a driver among other things. Like Sechaba, he drove an old pick-up truck. He was chubby and scraggly-bearded.
     To my surprised relief, he said he believed in Tlhatlhamacholo, traditional God of Lesotho.
     I would later be told that Tlhatlhamacholo meant: "He who brings good luck." And I'd already been told that Basotho people traditionally believed they'd come to life in a great hut-like thing in the East. Now, I intently happily listened to everything Justice had to say.
     He said that, while praying, followers of Tlhatlhamacholo faced the east.
     Their year began in August. They performed ceremonies at this time, asking for protection from lightning and witches.
     He said their religion had also had prophets. These prophets had even predicted the arrival of the white man. They said the white man would come, holding something silver in his hand, and this silver thing would destroy the Basotho people's society.
     "Was it a cross?" I said.
     He said, no. It was probably money: a coin, or something. He said the Basotho were now fighting amongst themselves.
     Justice took a moment to challenge the legitimacy of Christianity. "Anyway, what is the Bible? Who wrote it!? It's important we know who we are, where we come from, and then we can know where we're going."
     He also made one more wise, critical observation of his countrymen.
     I told him I was working my way around the world. The Basotho people usually assumed someone was sponsoring my travels. They seemed convinced that they could only do something nice with their lives if they had Western sponsors, and otherwise they were impotent.
     Justice said, "It's not that they don't have the money. They don't have the heart."
     Justice dropped me off near Maseru, I walked the last mile into town, and I began selling stories.

be free, be yourself,
Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Lebitso, Albert, & Petros Khalanyane; Sechaba & Morui; Grace; Justice; Makeke & Tleu; and Masike for rides!
Much thanks to Itumeleng, Emily, Liteboho, Teboho, & Beleli for the place to visit!

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